Featured Performances @ the 13th Annual John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival

John Coltrane – Bio

High Point, North Carolina. Not only the world’s furniture capital, but the city where John William Coltrane grew up. Born in Hamlet, NC on September 23, 1926, Coltrane’s family moved to High Point when he was an infant.  

 High Point Native Son

118 Underhill Street, now designated a historic property, is where he lived for most of the years he spent here. The house was built by his maternal grandfather, the Rev. W.W. Blair. Blair who was an elder of the AME Zion church. Both of Coltrane’s grandfathers were ordained ministers. Coltrane’s father, John R. Coltrane, was a tailor by trade and also a preacher. He played the violin and ukulele. John Coltrane’s mother, a homemaker, was a church pianist too. Religion, faith and the musical expressions of spirituality filled the home providing the seeds that would nurture the young John Coltrane.

He went to the Leonard Street Elementary School and joined the newly formed community band somewhere around the age of 12. He had started on saxophone and switched to clarinet. Even then, he practiced; practiced more than most kids. It was at this time that the Coltrane family suffered the death of his father, his grandfather, grandmother and a little more than a year later, the death of an uncle. Music grew to sustain the young Coltrane through these extremely difficult times. 

Career Evolution

He became a member of the newly formed William Penn High School band. Today the school is named Penn-Griffin School of the Arts. Coltrane stayed in High Point until he finished school while his mother and aunt moved to Philadelphia, PA for better work opportunities. He joined them after graduating in 1943 and began a study of the saxophone in earnest. After a stint in the Navy during World War II (he was part of the band) Coltrane performed with the big bands of Dizzy Gillespie, Johnny Hodges and Ear Bostic; recorded with Miles Davis, and studied with Thelonious Monk. Being in Miles’ band lifted Coltrane to national recognition and international exposure.  

Battling a drug addiction that led to his being fired from the band and kicking that habit on his own, Coltrane became intensely productive. He took numerous recording gigs as a sideman, recorded his first album as a leader, Coltrane on Prestige Records and debuted his gift as a composer on the Blue Note release Blue Train. He also returned to the Miles Davis band and helped pioneer modal jazz, contributing as The tenor saxophonist on the 1959 Kind of Blue, with Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece and the best selling jazz album of all time.  John Coltrane struck out on his own, leaving the Miles Davis band and Prestige Records to sign with Atlantic Records. His Atlantic discography includes the important Giant Steps, and My Favorite Things, an album whose title cut yielded a huge commercial hit for Coltrane who reimagined the show tune playing the soprano sax for the first time. 

Universal Connection

He changed labels one more time, moving to Impulse Records, formed what came to be called the “classic quartet,” which included pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Jones. The foursome created many powerful and influential albums, Ballads, Live at Birdland, Crescent, “and his signature work  A Love Supreme; the latter being a spiritual offering of thanksgiving to God. The album was nominated for two Grammy Awards. It remains a rare and revered creative piece that unites the deeply personal with universally sacred expression. 

 Coltrane was at the forefront of the free jazz movement as early as its emergence during his Atlantic Records days. Technically, his playing was a link between the harmonically dense jazz of the 1950s and the free jazz that was evolving in the 1960s. The next iteration of his band saw his wife, pianist Alice Coltrane replaced Tyner, Rasheed Ali became the drummer after Jones’ departure and Pharoah Sanders joined the band as a second saxophone. This group — with unabashed boldness, embraced the exploration to the delight of avant-garde enthusiasts. 

 Few knew of his illness (liver cancer) or its severity, so when John Coltrane passed away on July 17, 1967 it sent shock waves around the world. The mammoth amount of creativity contained in his catalog has and will continue to inspire artists of all music genres as well as students seeking to learn from and follow his enlightened path. 



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